That's the supposed number of times a phrase or word should be repeated to achieve its most potent unleashing of restorative energy, or at least that's what the practitioners of Japa meditation techniques swear by. Primarily rooted in the Hare Krishna movement, it is becoming more and more popular among many who practice meditation.
"By chanting...it is the sublime method for defining our Krishna consciousness." says Srila Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
"As living spiritual souls, we are all originally Krishna conscious entities, but due to our association with matter from time immemorial, our consciousness is now polluted in the material atmosphere. In this polluted concept of life, we are all trying to exploit the sources of material nature but are actually becoming more entangled in our complex cities."
Thus, Prabhupada delineates the way humans can rejoin their earlier essence and harmony with all living entities is through the repetitive chanting of specific mantras. Prabhupada himself advocates the use of traditional maha chant, "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna/Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama/Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare."
"This illusory nature of material world can at once be stopped by revival of our Krishna consciousness," he explains. "Krishna consciousness is not an artificial imposition on the mind. This consciousness is the original energy of living entities. When we hear the transcendental vibration, this consciousness is revived."
The theory behind the meditation is that sound has a great power locked within it to reach the same levels of consciousness former LSD drug advocate Timothy Leary sought to attain.
While less delirium-induced, Japa meditation makes use of the mantra - a Sanskrit term referring to a specific chant - to circumvent the mind from its daily "doing" and move it to another plane of consciousness.
While Leary's inner circle probably felt they were on that plane, practitioners of Japa meditation truly believe they reach that plateau with the bonus of not being under some chemically-enhanced delirium. Mantras can be anything the person chooses, as long as its positive.
Negative mantras hold the same power, though they seek to invoke a discord within one's personal sphere. Thus, Prabhupada suggests the traditional Sanskrit mantras, but acknowledges the efficacy of positive personal affirmations. It's the return to the deeper consciousness and a life that is in touch with a transcendental plane.
It certainly puts a new perspective on humming.